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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

There is a huge ongoing debate in the US about an Islamic cultural center that is proposed 2 blocks from the WTC site. And every loser of a politician and their mothers are jumping at the opportunity to add to the noise. Most, as expected, are opposing the construction of the center, which will also include a mosque, saying it will be an insult to the memory of the thousands who were killed my Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001.

I heard on the radio this morning that more than 50% of Americans are not sure if Obama is a Muslim or a Christian, only because he does not seem like a very religious person.(rather, he does not flaunt is religion). No one asked them if it matters to them what religion he was. Why is that important? Because there is separation of church and state in the US. So it should not matter if your leader was a Christian or a Muslim or an atheist. But in reality, it does, and Obama, instead of saying “So what if I was a Muslim”, continues to say, “I am not a Muslim, I am a Christian”. Boy, I would hate to be a Muslim in this environment. I mean, some crazy fanatics do something bad, and the whole of my community is ostracized for that. The president is ashamed of being associated with my religion, most Americans openly oppose the building of a cultural center in Manhattan, something that was on the cards for decades now.

If you hear the opposition to the Islamic center, you would think that the exact same Muslims who want the center built actually flew the plane into the twin towers. One popular republican even went so far as to say that there wouldn’t be a Nazi center near the holocaust site, or a Japanese center near Pearl Harbor. But then, isn’t it an unfair comparison? Can you say all Germans are Nazis? Similarly, a German center is very different from a Nazi center. Germans are to Nazis, like Muslims are to Islamic terrorists. There is NO CONNECTION as far as I see it. Also, there is a Shinto temple near Pearl Harbor.

I was listening to all the opposition to the center, on the radio this morning, and Sarah Palin started to talk about why it would be disrespectful to build a mosque at the WTC site. But then, the proposed center is a good 2 blocks away from the site. How far away is far enough? 10 blocks? Would that not hurt the sentiments of the public?

If all religions are to be treated equally, the Islamic center opposition really has no ground to stand on, unless they want to say that all religions, except some, are to be treated equally.

**Update** I just realized that this is my 300th post. In honor of this milestone, I would ask all of you lurkers to show yourself. Go on, show of hands 🙂

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I just finished reading The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It is the story of the Mahabharat from the point of view of Draupadi. I did not like it as much as I had hoped, but it did make me think about the story.
  • It reinforced my pity for Karna. He got the rawest deal of everyone. And Arjun got the best. It is like the world conspired to keep Karna away from glory and passed it on to Arjun. Initially Karna never really comes across as a bad person, like Duryodhan does, but slowly his gratitude to Duryodhan takes over his sense of right and wrong.
  • It made me think about how we never get to hear/understand what the women did/thought. Mahabharat is so story-heavy and there are so many strong male characters that women are often reduced to the background. Looking pretty when in the palace, or crying/sobbing when in the forest. Thats it. This book on the other hand, explores what Draupadi thought of herself, her family, and most of the women she interacts with. And that makes this book worth a read. But somewhere in the middle the book almost degenerated into a saas-bahu power struggle. How Draupadi wants to one up Kunti and how she thinks Kunti has this iron-grip over her sons is a little painful to read. Thankfully the great war rescued it from being so!
  • Draupadi is told time and again that women should behave in a certain way and much ill will befall the world if that does not happen. And we are reminded again that it was her speaking/laughing/avenging out of turn was what caused the great war. Somewhere in the end, after the war ends Draupadi is crying over the fact that she was the cause of all the destruction, and Dhritarashtra is almost about to give a shraap(yeah these were so easy and effective) to the Pandavas and her, until Krishna comes and yells at him for having caused much destruction, and how it was Dhritarashtra’s folly, his literally blind love for his son caused the war. Krishna was the only male character who impressed me. Granted he was God, but he treated both men and women equally. At one point there is a discussion between Draupadi and Krishna, where he asks her how does it matter to God if you are man or woman? Both are after all God’s creation.
  • People(Kunti, Yudhisthir, Bheeshm) conveniently remember and forget their promises to others as it suits them. They also go into these what is right and what is wrong thought processes that prevent them from doing what their heart really wants them to. While on his death-bed(rather on the bed of arrows) Bheeshm tells Draupadi that he did not stop Duryodhan when he was insulting her after Yudhishthir lost her in the game because he was debating whether Draupadi already ‘belonged’ to Duryodhan or not! SImilarly, Kunti wants to tell everyone that Karna is her son. That would have lead to the brothers not fighting one another, and Karna possibly goading Duryodhan into giving Pandavas the 5 villages. The great war would have been prevented. But she did not, for fear of being hated by her sons.
  • Draupadi’s known and unknown relationships with her husbands and Karan flabbergasted me. Did you know that Draupadi and Karan had an unspoken thing for each other? Did you? Well I didn’t and was surprised that there are so many such masaledar storylines in the Mahabharat that are not explored. The TV serial barely touched on the Vyasa being grandfather to Dhritarashtra-Pandu-Vidur thing.
  • The book also never really describes the nature of the relationship between Krishna and Draupadi. I remember distinctly that she called her brother in the TV series. There is a whole page in the book where Draupadi is thinking about what her relationship with Krishna is, and she never says brother!
PS: I could swear the guy who sings “Yada yada hi dharmasya” in the title song of the good old Mahabharat is the same guy who plays Duryodhan. (Apparently not, the singer is Mahendra Kapoor)
PPS: How many of you remember reading the name ‘Bhring Tupkari’ in the TV serial credits and suppressing a giggle?

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Hindutva

This week saw politicians of all types giving their two bits on the Abu Azmi vs MNS flap. One of them was RSS chiefMohan Bhagwat. When I saw the headline “RSS chief takes swipe at Raj Thackeray on language issue” on timesofindia.com, I was curious as to how RSS would react to this. (I consider RSS as an organization that, in recent times, has morphed into a Hindu-nationalistic one that specializes in marginalizing other faiths.) Bhagwat criticized the attack on Azmi and said, among other things “All Indian languages are our languages. Regional issues are being flared up by politicians only to increase their vote-bank”..say what? Did he just say something that actually makes sense? Well I decided to be open about what he wants to say and read on.

Without naming either Raj Thackeray or MNS, Bhagwat further said that social unity fell victim to such extreme positions. Questioning the logic behind stretching regional issues to such lengths, Bhagwat said politicians are only interested in exploiting the situation for their own good.

This was too good a blog opportunity to pass up for me. This was the pot calling the kettle black, after having rubbed off its soot on all cups and saucers!

Finally he added:

Stating that the RSS stood for the unity of the people and that it respected their diversities, Bhagwat said the philosophy of Hindutva alone could help people come together. “The world today is faced with serious problems and only Hindutva can provide answers to these problems. It’s Hindutva which believes in the world as one family,” he added. Hindutva, he said, was the identity of the country.

I admit I know nothing about Hindutva…except that it sounds like something about a Hindu way of life, and that it was coined by Veer Savarkar. So I decided to read up. And for my benefit, and for the benefit of my readers, here is Hindutva from Wikipedia baba:

Hindutva (Devanagari: हिन्दुत्व, “Hinduness”, a word coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1923 pamphlet entitled Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? ) is the term used to describe movements advocating Hindu nationalism. Members of the movement are called Hindutvadis.

So Hindutva means all those practices that advocate Hindu Nationalism. So does it mean all activities that a Hindu does in order to make his/her nation  a hindu nation? Well, not really.

Further,  Supreme Court has ruled that

no meaning to the words Hindu or Hindutva or Hinduism can confine them to a religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage.

Meaning that Hindutva can be the practice of advocating Hindu nationalism by Indians of any faith or religion. Still confused? Well I am too. Because according to Savarkar Hindutva meant Hinduness or the Hindu Characteristic. So do they all mean to say that Hindu is NOT = person following the Hindu religion but someone from the land of Hindu, aka, Hindustan? Thinking about the line “excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage” makes me realize that the supreme court really meant to refer to Hindus as those inhabiting Hindustan, not those who are Hindu by religion.

The Supreme Court further says:

Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu and since the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange gods and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well-being of the world and mankind.

So it seems like Hindutva was never meant to be what it has become today. A movement that represents Indians of the Hindu faith, specially upper class Hindus. It was never meant to be a movement that looks the other way when radicals are mauling people of other faiths solely because of difference in faiths. The earliest proponents of Hindutva believed that

India’s diversity in terms of customs, traditions and ways of worship was its uniqueness and that this diversity was not without the strong underlying cultural basis which was essentially native. The Hindu natives with all their diversity, shared among other things “the same philosophy of life”, “the same values” and “the same aspirations” which formed a strong cultural and a civilizational basis for a nation.”

Also,

Hindus are those that inhabit the Indian subcontinent, that includes the areas south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush….

So there is a separation of the religion and the philosophy of life. For example you could be a Muslim but your ideas and philosophies were akin to the fundamentals of being a Hindu, you would be a Hindu-muslim? This one will surely send people into a spin and here is where the waters get murky. The Hindu way of life encompasses all who are born and who have adopted Bharat as their Motherland, including Muslims, Christians and Parsis. that the Muslims, Christians and Parsis too are Hindus by culture although as religions they are not so. Then the Hindutva philosophy(as defined by RSS) further states that one of their goals is

Emphasizing historical oppression of Hindus by Colonial invaders like the Muslims and the Christians and the call to “reverse” the cultural influence resulting from these intrusions

wait wait wait! Did we not just call all those who adopted Bharat as their motherland as culturally Hindus? So does not mean that even their way of life and cultural influence be a part of being a Hindu then? So why is Hindutva talking about ‘reversing’ the cultural influence? It seems like one statement negates the other, and only succeeds on confusing the poor(me) reader.

What I want to know is the reactions of people from all faiths on Hindutva. Would you embrace the philosophy if it did not have religious connotations? Do you think there is an ‘Indian’ way of life that represents us all first, then there is a ‘faith-based’ way of life, and that these two can be separated?

There is a treasure trove of information on Hindutva, and I have barely skimmed the surface in this post. Further topics under the Hindutva Philosohpy are uniform civil code, opposition to differential laws, rewriting/reinterpreting history from the point of view of a Hindu, rather than the British PoV that exists currently etc, which I will try to reflect and expand upon in the coming weeks.

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Barack Hussein Obama!

In the first week of January 2008, back when the democratic presidential nomination had barely started, I had a discussion with my colleague at work with whom I car-pooled. She wanted to know if I had any favorites among the presidential candiates and parties. I told her as a matter of fact that I would love to see Barack Obama nominated, and then elected as the President. I instantly felt that she was uncomfortable with my answer. When I asked her what she thinks, she immediately quipped, ‘Anyone but Obama’. When I asked her why, her answer was simple, that he was a muslim. This was my first ‘political’ conversation with someone in the US and here I was confronted with what to say. I just smiled. But I realized one thing at that moment. If this person, a colleague of mine with a graduate degree from a prestegeous American University, someone who has access to the internet and all the fact checking resources believes against all evidence that Obama is a muslim, what about thousands of Americans who have no access to information but radio talk shows that are inundated with narrow conservatism? While its a personal matter to like or dislike or select or reject a candidate, to wrongly assume something without even bothering to use the tools available at ones disposal is being absolutely lazy, in my opinion.
Well, as time passed I forgot about this issue and continued to be interested in the democratic party political process keenly. But somewhere at the back of my mind was the thought about the various rumors doing the rounds, like Obama is a muslim and the like and how the Obama campaign was vehemently denying he was one and then he going on talking about this Christian faith etc. The question I am bothered by is, So what if he is a Muslim? Doesn’t the US constitution say that there has to be religious tolerance in the country? Didn’t the founding fathers say that US is NOT a religion-based country? Have Americans become Islamophobes? What are all the Islamic Americans thinking now? Are they sad that being a ‘muslim’ is a slur these days? Being from India, I am used to the radical views of other religious groups against Islam but I could never understand how being a Muslim could cause someone to be looked down upon, or be less qualified for something. Is it because the people who brought the WTC down on 9-11 were muslims? Does that mean we should hate Christians because of the crusades they waged against the other religions? Does that mean we can hate each other just because we were hurt by someone who happened to be of the same religion?

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